A Bad Trade: Helping Teenagers See Sexual Sin Clearly

“Doesn’t God want me to be happy?”

This is perhaps the most common objection I get when teaching biblical sexuality to the teenagers in my youth group.

It might be because saying “no” to sexual activity with a boyfriend or girlfriend just seems too hard. Or maybe their gender dysphoria is so strong that transitioning seems like the only path toward happiness. Perhaps same-sex attraction feels like a part of who they are, and they can’t imagine a lifetime of denial. 

Our students wonder: Isn’t Jesus asking too much? Doesn’t he love me?

It’s a hard question, and it demands more than an easy answer. 

A good starting point is Hebrews 12. The author of Hebrews wants us to know that following Jesus isn’t going to be easy. He tells us to “run with perseverance” (v. 1), to “struggle against sin” (v. 4), and to “endure hardship” (v. 7). In other words, if we’re expecting the Christian life to cost us nothing, we’re misreading the Bible. Following Christ is wonderfully good, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

In particular, this passage talks about a battle with sin. Sin that easily entangles us, that hinders us from running the race set before us (v 1), and that even tempts us to give up our eternal inheritance (v. 16-17). Without holiness no one will see God (v. 14), meaning there’s something huge at stake, the enemy is fighting hard, and we need to be ready to fight back with everything we’ve got (v. 12-14). 

Sexuality presents an especially charged struggle for us and for our students, which Hebrews 12 goes on to single out. Satan knows it’s an arena where we can be weak—and where our sin can have huge consequences. Sexual sin looks so tempting, but it can so easily snare us and pull us out of the race. So Hebrews warns us: Sin wants us to trade infinite joy for brief pleasure. Don’t fall for it.

The Worst Exchange

“See to it that no one is sexually immoral or godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.” (Hebrews 12:16-17, NIV)

These words help us to see sexual sin for what it really is: not gain at all, but a deep loss. 

The writer is referring back to Genesis 25. Esau was out hunting while his brother Jacob was at home making dinner. He made stew, and it must have been good. Esau walked in after being out hunting all day, famished. He smelled the stew bubbling and he just had to have some. Jacob said he would sell him a bowl in exchange for his birthright (the family inheritance). It’s a shockingly ridiculous ask. But even more shockingly, Esau agreed to the deal. In listening to his desires in the moment instead of considering what was of ultimate worth, Esau traded his whole inheritance for a bowl of lentil stew. 

Talk about a rip-off! 

Hebrews is telling us that when we give in to sexual temptation, we’re doing the same thing. We’re trading what is eternally better by far—a life of intimate communion with Jesus—for something that will feel good in the moment but ultimately will not satisfy. That’s why the text says Esau “despised his birthright.” It’s not that he actually hated his inheritance. Instead, in that moment when he believed a bowl of chili to be worth more than his family estate, he treated his entire inheritance as worthless. 

Hebrews warns us: Don’t be like Esau. Don’t believe the lie that temporary pleasure (whether it’s porn, or sex, or some identity contrary to how God made you) is going to satisfy more than Christ. It’s not true.

Hebrews 12 isn’t the only place in Scripture that talks about giving into sexual temptation as a bad trade. In Romans 1:22-25, Paul writes, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images….Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”

Romans 1 is sometimes referred to as one of the “clobber passages” against homosexuality in Scripture. It’s often quoted to show that God views gay sex as “contrary to nature,” “dishonorable,” and shameful (v 26-27). And the passage does use those words. But Paul (and the writer of Hebrews) did not pen these passages to “clobber” anyone. They wrote them to shed light on the options before us in order to protect us from a bad trade.

We can chase after our passions, follow our lusts, and “do what feels good,” and we might experience short-term pleasure—a bowl of warm stew. But we’ll still be left hungry in the end. And what will it cost us?

An inheritance for a bowl of stew. The glory of the immortal Creator God for images of created creeping things. Light for darkness. Glory for shame. Wisdom for foolishness. Walking with Jesus for a forbidden fruit. Eternal life for brief sexual indulgence.

God is not out to spoil our joy or limit our pleasure. The Bible is trying to shout at us, in the kindest and clearest of ways: It’s not a good trade! Don’t fall for it! The writer of Hebrews is trying to help us see clearly what we’re giving up so that we don’t fall for Satan’s tricks. The author doesn’t want us to settle for a far cheaper, inferior kind of happiness and love at the expense of deep, lasting, real joy and intimacy.

Because yes, following Jesus has a cost. We’re called to say no to very real desires, to deny ourselves. The very entry point to the Christian life is dying with Jesus. But it’s a small price to pay compared to the glory that awaits. 

The Greatest Treasure

Jesus himself put it this way: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matt. 13:44). This man gave up everything he owned for the treasure, but he did it in his joy because he knew what he was gaining was better by far than anything he gave up. Unlike Esau, he knew a good trade when he saw it. An inheritance for a bowl of stew. Can we pass up a deal like that? 

After all, Jesus himself took on the worst trade—heaven’s glory for the weight of God’s wrath on the cross—so that we could freely make the ultimate exchange: our sin for his righteousness and life. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:20-21). Jesus paid the highest price (willingly!) so that we could have the greatest treasure: knowing him. 

Friends, this is why we’re in youth ministry. We want our students to know the joy of walking with Jesus as their greatest treasure! Let’s make sure we regularly remind our own hearts of the value of the treasure that we’ve been. Then, when we teach students the gospel, we’ll be able to share, like Paul, that everything we lost was rubbish compared to Jesus (Php. 3:8).

We can feel compassion for our students who ask us, in tears, “Doesn’t God want me to be happy?” It’s hard to pass up a bowl of stew when you’re famished. It doesn’t seem loving. My heart goes out to those for whom following Jesus feels quite costly because of what they have to give up. 

But we can remind them it’s out of love that God warns us not to trade infinite joy for temporary pleasure. What Jesus invites us into is worth anything we have to give up. It’s the better deal, by far. We can pass on the bowl of stew and know that our eternal feast with Jesus will be infinitely worth it.

If you’re looking for more resources on this topic, our Rooted Reservoir Family Discipleship curriculum features a course for parents on teaching biblical sexuality.

Jennifer Kvamme

Jennifer M. Kvamme is passionate about helping teenagers see the beauty of the gospel and apply it to all of life. She has been in youth ministry at Centennial Church in Forest Lake, MN, for 20 years and is the author of More to the Story: Deep Answers to Real Questions on Attraction, Identity, and Relationships. She and her husband, Greg, have three children.

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